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.