Giuseppe Morello

by Jon Black

Alias: The Clutch Hand

Born: May 2, 1867 Corleone

Nationality: Sicilian

Died: 15th August 1930

Where: 352 E116th St.

Cause: Shot

In 1892 Giuseppe Morello arrived in New York from Corleone. He would later become considered the leader of the first important Mafia family of New York.

Six months later his family arrived including his mother, step-father, four sisters, his brother Nicola and his two step-brothers, Ciro and Vincent Terranova. The family stayed in New York for around a year, but suffered from the lack of available work.

Morello travelled to Louisiana to stay with a cousin, and two months later his family followed him. The father and Morello worked for about a year, planting sugar cane then moving on to Bryan, Texas, where they worked as cotton pickers. In 1896, the family was hit with Malaria and they made their way back to their original landing point, New York.

In New York, Morello worked with his father as an ornamental plasterer, while his younger step-brothers, Ciro and Vincent, helped out during the evenings and weekends. He eventually opened a coal basement, but sold that after a year and around 1898, opened a saloon on 13th Street, soon followed by a second saloon on Stanton Street. Due to bad business, he closed the Stanton Street Saloon and sold the other. He then opened a date factory, employing around fifteen people, the business ran at a loss and was closed.

On June 11th, 1900, Giuseppe Morello was arrested along with Colagero Meggiore. They were accused of selling counterfeit money and held on $5000 bail. The arrests had grown out of a Secret Service investigation that began when $5 bills were being passed in Brooklyn and North Beach. Morello and Meggiore were believed to be the suppliers of the money, which was described as “being printed on very poor paper with crude workmanship”. However, Morello later walked free from court.

Giuseppe Morello started a real estate company in 1902, ‘The Ignatz Florio Co-Operative Association Among Corleonesi’, the company was involved in the construction and selling of properties in New York. The names listed on the incorporation as directors were Morello, Antonio Milone – a man who would later be involved with their counterfeiting schemes and Marco Macaluso. The company eventually collapsed, hindered by the economic downturn in 1907. It was later investigated by the Bankers Association of America.

In January 1903, Morello was charged with passing counterfeit money. $5 bills were being replicated in precise imitation to the currency issued by the National Iron Bank, Morristown, NJ. They were printed in Italy and shipped to New York in empty olive oil cans. Other suspects refused to implicate Morello in the case and he walked free. Several members of the Morello gang were sent to prison, including Giuseppe De Primo.

Benedetto Madonnia, brother-in-law to the jailed De Primo, was murdered in April 1903. The case became known as ‘The Barrel Murder’ after Madonnia’s body was found cut and stuffed into an old barrel, in East 11th Street. Morello was again arrested, but eventually cleared due to lack of evidence. During the trials he listed his businesses as a barber shop on Tenth Avenue with a cobbler shop next door, a restaurant at 8 Prince Street, and claimed he had two tenement houses on lease.

After the trial had finished in June 1903, the whole Morello family were searched and hounded on a regular basis. On one occasion Ciro and Nicholas Terranova were arrested whilst trying to locate a doctor for Giuseppe’s son, Charles.

On February 11th, 1909, Giuseppe Morello relocated to 207 E 107th Street. His current home and office, at 630 138th Street, had been built by his failing real estate company, the Ignatz Florio Corporation, back in 1905. The building was later auctioned off in October 1909, after the foreclosure of the mortgage due to Ignazio Lupo’s disappearance.

After Morello moved from his home a meeting of the shareholders was held and the 630 E138th house was sold. E107th Street would be a welcome area to Morello, number 231 was one particular address that contained many important names – The Rao family lived there and ran the feather shop on the ground floor, Steve LaSalle lived there and also Angelo Gagliano who ran a saloon at 277 E 107th with Ippolito Greco.

On April 29th, 1909, the Morello wife had another child,  just three months later Giuseppe Morello lost his father to old age.

On November 15th, 1909, Secret Service agents met with officer Carraro from the police and went to 207 East 107th, here they arrested Giuseppe Morello in connection with a counterfeiting ring in Highland, New York. He was taken from his bed with a loaded .44 calibre revolver. Morello was placed in the front room with his son whilst the agents searched the house, Morello passed two letters to his wife to hide but Carraro spotted them and informed the agents, they then found a further four letters hidden inside a baby’s diaper. Secret Service records describe the letters as Black Hand threats that had been issued by Morello himself.

Agent Flynn of the Secret Service described the way in which the Mafia leader used the letters:

A threatening letter is sent to a proposed victim. Immediately after the letter is delivered by the postman Morello just “happens” to be in the vicinity of the victim to be, and “accidentally” meets the receiver of the letter. The receiver knows of Morello’s close connections with Italian malefactors, and, the thing being fresh in mind, calls Morello’s attention to the letter. Morello takes the letter and reads it. He informs the receiver that victims are not killed off without ceremony and just for the sake of murder. The “Black-Hand” chief himself declares he will locate the man who sent the letter, if such a thing is possible, the victim never suspecting that the letter is Morello’s own. Of course, the letter is never returned to the proposed victim. By this cunning procedure no evidence remains in the hand of the receiver of the letter should he wish to seek aid from the police.

The contents of the Black Hand letters, found in Giuseppe Morello’s home are shown below:

“MR. BATAGLIA: “Do not think that we are dead. Look out for your face; a veil won’t help you. Now is the occasion to give me five hundred dollars on account of that which you others don’t know respect that from then to now you should have kissed my forehead I have been in your store, friend Donate how you respect him he is an ignorant boob, that I bring you others I hope that all will end that when we are alone they give me no peace as I deserve time lost that brings you will know us neither some other of the Mafia in the future will write in the bank where you must send the money without so many stories otherwise you will pay for it.”

DEAR FRIEND : Beware we are sick and tired of writing to you to the appointment you have not come with people of honor. If this time you don’t do what we say it will be your ruination. Send us three hundred dollars with people of honor at eleven o’clock Thursday night. There will be a friend at the corner of 15th Street and Hamilton Ave. He will ask you for the signal. Give me the word and you will give him the money. Beware that if you don’t come to this order we will ruin all your merchandise and attempt your life. Beware of what you do. M. N.

FRIEND: The need obliges us to come to you in order to do us a favor. We request, Sunday night, 7th day, at 12 o’clock you must bring the sum of $1000. Under penalty of death for you and your dears you must come under the new bridge near the Grand Street ferry where you will find the person that wants to know the time. At this word you will give him the money. Beware of what you do and keep your mouth shut…

In the resulting court case Morello was sentenced on the first count to 15 years hard labour and a $500 fine. On the second count, 10 years hard labour and a $500 fine.

In January 1911, almost one year after his imprisonment for counterfeiting, Morello was reported to have spoken to the Attorney representing the US authorities. In the hope of shortening his sentence he supplied information about the murder of Lieutenant Petrosino. No evidence has ever been found of this.

His sentence was commuted to 15 years and he was released in 1920. Later, seen as a chief strategist to Masseria, Morello was murdered during the Castellammarese war.