I used to watch crime dramas – most of them set in New York City or a backlot pretending to be NYC. Brooklyn seemed like the headquarters for organized crime what with the waterfront, the construction unions and ghost payrolls, traveling dice games and the candy stores (more about that to come.). The mafia was glamorized, although there were a lot of roly-poly guys.
In researching and reading, I found there’s too much to put together with loads the different mobsters and their nicknames and where they lived and how they died. I did cross paths with some Italians who might have been in the trade, but it sort of lost its luster when I met a man who grew up in Brooklyn and went to school with the sons of made men. “They were bullies who liked to cause other people trouble because they could get away with it. And they are still bullies.” He explained he was still was forced to hire people and do favors. "You don’t say no if you want to stay in business,” he told me.
But still, it’s a part of Brooklyn history and while I can’t tell all of it, I did visit the graves of four mafioso who are buried at Green-Wood Cemetery. Lesser known gangsters may be buried there too, but I don’t know their names. Along with that, there was a funeral home in Brooklyn that made double coffins from time to time. A murder victim was placed in the bottom of a coffin. A nice satin-covered false bottom was laid over the murdered corpse, and the person for whom the family actually purchased the coffin was then laid on top of that. How many murdered victims were disposed of this way in Green-Wood Cemetery or at any other cemetery in Brooklyn is a question for a reality show.
This was my private tour **:
John Torrio (aka Johnny the Fox 1882-1957) has a nice walk-in tomb with an altar and a stained glass window. John got lift-off in organized crime when he caught the eye of the leader of the Five Points Gant, Paul Kelly whose real name was Paolo Antonio Vaccerelli (guess he was trying to pass as Irish). Kelly taught him to dress nicely, stop swearing, and establish a legitimate business, perhaps the importation of olive oil, as a front for his criminal activities. Torrio in turn mentored Al Capone.
Jim Colosimo was married to Torrio’s Aunt Victoria a former madam in a brothel (I never said these people were classy), ran a huge prostitution business in Chicago and recruited Torrio to help out. Torrio moved to Chicago and prospered. When the Prohibition Amendment passed, Torrio wanted to sell bootleg liquor. Colosimo didn’t, so Torrio arranged to have him murdered. Torrio started bootlegging and controlled the Loop in Chicago. When he attempted to expand beyond – by killing the leader of another gang, - members of that gang shot him five times. He recovered, was arrested for violating Prohibition and sent to jail for a year.
After release from prison, Torrio briefly moved his family to Italy, and left the business to Al Capone. Torrio eventually moved his family back to Brooklyn where he ran a bail bond company (with Dutch Schultz). Would you jump bail on a mob bondsman?
In 1957, Torrio had a heart attack while he was sitting in a barber’s chair and went to his final rest at Green-Wood Cemetery. The Torrio tomb is easy to find as it sits on one of the many little roads in Green-Wood – Canna Path.
[Torrio’s tomb is on the Green-Wood Cemetery Walk #1 – see below].
Joey Gallo (aka “Crazy Joe” 1929-1972) was born and raised in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn. His father was a bootlegger and criminal who encouraged his three sons to develop their own criminal enterprises. (What father doesn’t want that for his children?) After an arrest in 1950, Joey was sent to the psychiatric ward at King’s County Hospital and thereafter had the nickname “Crazy Joe.”
Joey became a top enforcer for the Profaci Family and worked gambling and extortion. His headquarters was in his grandmother’s apartment in Red Hook.
His career is really complicated with altercations with all sorts of members of various mafia families, but one notable event was the murder of a member of Joey’s crew, Joseph “Joe Jelly” Gioelli. Gioelli’s clothes, stuffed with fish, were left on the sidewalk outside an establishment where Joey was sure to see them. Later, a similar incident was described in The Godfather.
Joey went to Attica prison for ten years (1961-1971) for attempted extortion of a Brooklyn bar owner and was there during the Attica riot. In prison he was diagnosed as schizophrenic. When he was released, he moved from Brooklyn to Manhattan, living at 7 West 14th Street where he met Sina Essary. Sina had been in a convent and ready to take her vows when she got pregnant, left the convent, married, divorced and then met Joey. They got involved in the culture of the Village hobnobbing with artists and actors, including actor Jerry Orbach of Law & Order and Broadway fame. There is no record that they ever met, but Bob Dylan recorded a song called “Joey” presenting Gallo as a semi-hero: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zCCOQpx5ux4
Joey’s had enemies. On his 43rd birthday in 1972 Sina, her 10 year old daughter, Joey’s sister Carmella and Joey stopped for a snack at the newly-opened Umberto’s Clam Bar** in Little Italy at 4 a.m. While they were eating, Carmine “Sonny Pinto” DiBraise entered the restaurant with two other men and shot Joey, who staggered out to the sidewalk and collapsed on the corner of Hester and Mulberry Streets. Thus Joey died.
His funeral was a spectacle with hundreds of people lining the streets as his casket was driven to Green-Wood Cemetery. Joey was buried next to his brother, Larry Gallo, a less colorful gangster who had died of cancer in 1968.
The grave is a little difficult to find as it sits on a hillside which is covered in little bushes.
Joey Gallo claimed he murdered the 4th famous mobster known to be buried at Green-Wood Cemetery, .Alberto Anastasia
Anastasia was a founder of Murder, Inc., which operated out of a candy store in East New York, and arranged an estimated 400-1000 deaths in ten years. Anastasia actually was seen killing several people himself, but the witnesses always disappeared, so he was never convicted. While he was quite useful to the mob, Anastasia wasn’t well liked and he was shot to death in 1957 while he was sitting in a barber chair at the **Park Sheraton Hotel (renamed Park Central Hotel) at 870 Seventh Ave. in Manhattan.
Anastasia had poorly-attended service at a funeral home – the Brooklyn Catholic diocese refused a church service – and he was interred on the flats of Green-Wood Cemetery with no friends or family buried nearby. His grave is relatively easy to find because it’s off Lake Road, not too far from the main entrance.
I quit watching crime dramas because they just can't compete with the over-dramatised news which I don't watch either.
**There are self-guided tour books you can buy at Green-Wood – Torrio’s tomb is listed in Walk #1 and Anastasia’s grave is listed in Walk #2.
**Umberto’s Clam House still exists and is located just down the block on Mulberry Street in Manhattan's Little Italy – I ate their once and recommend it.
**Gangster Arnold Rothstein was shot in one of the rooms of this same hotel.