|Born||April 7, 1929
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
|Died||April 7, 1972 (aged 43)
Manhattan, New York, U.S.
Jeffie Gallo (twice)
Sina Essary (March-April 1972, his death)
Joseph "Joey" Gallo (April 7, 1929 – April 7, 1972), also known as "Crazy Joe" and "Joe the Blond", was a New York City gangster, gunman, and racketeer of the Profaci crime family (later known as the Colombo crime family). Joey and his two brothers would initiate one of the bloodiest mob conflicts since the Castellammarese War of 1931. His brothers were Lawrence Gallo and Albert "Kid Blast" Gallo. His death would be the subject of Bob Dylan's 1976 song "Joey".
Gallo, who was born and raised in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, New York, was a very colorful character and talkative by nature. In the 1950s he was nicknamed "Joey the Blond" because of his full chest of blond hair. In 1947 after viewing the Richard Widmark film Kiss of Death Joseph began to mimic Widmark's film character, "Tommy Udo" with his drowsy, heavy-lidded appearance and in later years could recite long passages of the movie's dialogue.
Gallo was married three times, to two women. He married, divorced and later remarried the woman only identified as Jeffie for the second time in July 1971. Little is known about Jeffie other than, "Though she [Jeffie] had yielded to Joey [Gallo] as the dominant partner in their marriage, it was a highly qualified surrender. She would abide by his decisions only if she approved of them. Mutual respect was her watchword, and if, on minor matters, she did sometimes give away against her better judgment, she would always make it clear to him that this was without prejudice." But after his second divorce with Jeffie he began pursuing Sina Essary. He married the 29-year-old Italian-American dental assistant in April 1972, a mere three weeks before his death. Joe's best man was his close friend David Steinberg. After being released from prison after ten years Sina would later comment about her first encounter with Gallo in 1971 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." After marrying Sina, Joseph became the stepfather of Lisa Essary-Gallo, born c.a. 1962 who was ten years old at the time of her new stepfather's murder. Joseph's wife, stepdaughter and biological sister were all present and witnesses to his unsolved gangland slaying. Lisa Essary-Gallo became close friends to Joe's children who had been mothered by the unidentified "Jeffie Gallo".
He secretly owned several nightclubs on Eighth Avenue and two sweat shops in the Manhattan garment district where forty or fifty women made fabric for dress suits. He ran floating dice and high-stakes card games, an extortion racket and a numbers betting operation from an apartment building on President Street in Brooklyn. Joey used kids to deliver and pick up this booty. He allegedly kept a pet lion in the basement of the same address.
Sometime in the early to late 1960s Gallo befriended African-American youths from the black-populated enclaves of Brooklyn, New York realizing that by joining forces with the African-Americans, rather than by fighting them, there was a lot of money to be made. The idea of uniting the major African-American and Italian underworld leaders became an obsession with him which would be his life's credo. It was a philosophy later put in practice by several fellow capos and mob bosses and led to building ties to other criminal organizations. While incarcerated at Auburn Correctional Facility Joseph acquired access to an easel in an attempt to become a painter of water colors and broaden his considerable talents in the legitimate employment field. He was an avid reader of Jean-Paul Sartre, Franz Kafka, Albert Camus, Alexandre Dumas, Victor Hugo, Leon Tolstoy, Ayn Rand, his literary role model and life icon Niccolò Machiavelli, and The New York Times. He had a philosophical outlook on life which was: if you're a cab driver, be the best cab driver in the world; if you're a gangster, be the best and do not settle for second rate. Donald Frankos would say, "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." While he was incarcerated at Auburn with Donald Frankos he would tutor Donald on the principles of his hero Niccolò Machiavelli. Donald in turn taught Joe how to play bridge.
While in jail, Joseph was an outsider among his fellow incarcerated Italian counterparts and was constantly seen with an entourage of African-Americans. In prison he worked as an elevator operator in the prison's woodworking shop.
In the late 1950s, Gallo tried to overpower mafia boss Joseph Profaci to take control of the Profaci family. Gallo was abetted in this conflict by his brothers Larry and Albert. Albert was himself nicknamed "Kid Blast". Due to Profaci's unpopularity with his men (he was seen as somewhat stingy and required constant tribute), the Gallos and a group of young street thugs he was recruiting. In May 1961, several gunmen tried and failed to kill Gallo. Profaci also placed his soldier, John Scimone, into the Gallo gang as a spy. Scimone set up the murder of Joseph "Joe Jelly" Gioelli, who was one of Gallo's top enforcers and biggest hitters. Profaci gunmen kidnapped Gioelli and took him out on Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn in a fishing boat. Once on the water, Gioelli was shot and dismembered. His clothing was stuffed with dead fish and thrown in front of an auto shop frequented by the Gallo gang. On August 20, 1961, brother Larry was lured to a meeting at the Sahara Lounge, a Brooklyn supper club. Once inside the club Profaci hitmen tried to strangle him. This reportedly included Carmine Persico whom is suspected of setting it up and double-crossing the Gallos. A police officer, however, happened to walk inside the club and stop Larry's execution. The Gallos would later seek to kill Carmine Persico, opening fire on his car. Persico survived the attempt with wounds to one arm and his jaw.
In 1961, Gallo was convicted of extortion and sent to prison for the next ten years. After Profaci died of cancer, underboss Joseph Magliocco was the new target of the Gallo revolt. Eventually Magliocco was forced to step down after the Mafia Commission discovered he was plotting against them.
Joey was a very cunning and conniving man who would politely invite fellow convicts into his cell and attempt to poison them, usually with strychnine. One time he nearly killed a fellow convict by offering him antipasto laced with the deadly chemical. A prison friend of Donald Frankos became aware of Gallo's poisoning methods and brought Joe poisoned lasagna, and at the same time Joe offered him anchovies marinated in strychnine. During a prison protest riot at Auburn, Joey rescued a severely wounded corrections officer. The corrections officer later testified in court after the riots and Joe was released early for performing this laudable civic duty. After talking down to his incarcerated fellow Italian Mafiosi and standing up for some African-American convicts, he earned the nickname "The Criminal" for his betrayal. After his release from prison, he became a figure with great status among elite society, a "must attend" on many guest lists. Members of the "in crowd" wanted him to attend their dinner parties and hung on his every remark as if he were royalty. His elevated status among the jet-set trend setters started when Jerry Orbach played a role in the movie The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight, based on the novel by Jimmy Breslin in which the main character supposedly depicts Gallo. After he had dinner with Orbach and his wife Martam, she would later comment that he had "absolutely" charmed her. Joey also became close friends with actress Joan Hackett who found it amusing when he called her a "broad", comedian David Steinberg and writer Peter Stone.
The Gallo brothers were mob outcasts, and some authorities on mafia question weather or not Gallo was ever actually inducted into the family.
Upon his release in 1971, Gallo started battling family boss Joe Colombo and the renamed Colombo family. Gallo was one of the first Mafiosi to predict a shift of power in the Harlem rackets from the Italian Mafia to African-American gangs. While in prison, Gallo had made numerous connections with African-American gang members such as Nicky Barnes. Gallo was allied with Carlo Gambino, who disliked all the publicity that Colombo garnered with his Italian-American League. Joe Colombo was shot three times in the head on June 28, 1971 by an African-American posing as a photographer named Jerome Johnson. Colombo went into a coma from which he never awoke. Johnson, who was immediately shot dead by unknown shooters, was said by authorities to be a Gallo associate, thus shifting suspicion to Gallo. However even though the FBI and police were taping and photographing the rally, no pictures or film of Columbo or Johnson being shot has ever been released.
On April 7, 1972, Gallo was celebrating his 43rd birthday with friends including his bodyguard, Peter "Pete the Greek" Diapoulas at a restaurant, Umberto's Clam House at 129 Mulberry Street in Little Italy, Manhattan. At least two gunmen burst in through the rear entrance (other accounts claim there was only one gunman) and opened fire with .32 and .38 caliber revolvers. Gallo was hit five times while running away, leaving his family at table. Diapoulas was shot once in the buttocks while also fleeing during the melee. Joey stumbled into the street, where he collapsed and died while his killers sped away in a car. The gunmen were never positively identified. At his funeral, Gallo's sister cried over his coffin that "The streets are going to run red with blood, Joey!"
As the Roman-Catholic Church would later protest concerning the burial of slain Gambino crime family mob boss Paul Castellano later in 1985, Joe was refused a proper burial by the local parish priest. His widowed wife Sina arranged for a substitute priest to fly in from Cleveland to perform the ceremony.
Informant Joe Luparelli later testified that Gallo's killers were Carmine DiBiase a.k.a. Sonny Pinto, and two brothers whom he knew only as Cisco and Benny. Luparelli also stated that mobster Phillip Gambino played a secondary role in the hit. Despite Luparelli's accusations, none of these men were ever charged with Gallo's killing. Pinto was sought, but never found, managing to evade police for over 30 years.
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.