The Early Years

by Jon Black

1900-1910. From the arrival of the Morello family, to the trial of Lupo the Wolf. The Secret Service hound New York’s first Mafia gang.

Arrival in America

In 1892 Giuseppe Morello arrived in New York from Corleone. He was followed six months later by his mother, step-father, four sisters and his step brothers; Nicola, Ciro and Vincent Terranova.

The family stayed in New York for around a year, but suffering from the lack of available work they travelled to Louisiana to stay with a cousin. For a year Morello worked with his father planting sugar cane before moving on to Bryan, Texas to work as a cotton picker. In 1896, the family arrived back in New York after being hit with Malaria.

In New York, Morello worked with his father as an ornamental plasterer, with his younger step-brothers, Ciro and Vincent, helping during the evenings and weekends. He then opened a coal basement, but sold that after a year, and around 1900 he opened a saloon on 13th Street, soon followed by a second saloon on Stanton Street. Due to bad business, Morello closed the Stanton Street saloon and sold the one on 13th Street in 1901. He then opened a date factory employing around fifteen people, but the business also ran at a loss.

Ignazio Lupo, who would later become a powerful member of the gang and also marry into the family, arrived in New York in 1898. Lupo was fleeing arrest in Palermo after killing a business rival in the wholesale grocery business. He opened a store on E72nd Street with a cousin named Saietta, but moved his business to Brooklyn after a disagreement.

Early Counterfeiting

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.

In 1901, Lupo moved his business from Brooklyn back to Manhattan, opening a small import store at 9 Prince Street, and also ran the saloon across the street at 8 Prince Street. A place that would become a known base for the Morello gang over the following years, with Giuseppe Morello owning the restaurant at the rear of the premises.

After an anonymous letter was sent to Detective Petrosino of the NYPD, the Secret Service raided a powerful band of counterfeiters on May 22st 1902. The tip off claimed that a gang had been manufacturing coins at a cottage in Hackensack, New Jersey, rented by Salvatore Clemente, an acquaintance of Nicholas Terranova. Clemente and a woman named Stella Frauto, along with her son, were captured at their home, 949 First Avenue. Agents also raided a barbershop at 969 First Avenue, that was being used to distribute the currency, arresting Vito Cascioferro and Giuseppe Romano. Cascioferro, one of the most powerful Mafia leaders of the time, managed to escape conviction with an alibi that he worked at a local paper mill.

One of the gang members, Giuseppe Romano, was well known to the police. He had been arrested in January 1902, after violently robbing a jewellery peddler in Chrystie Street. A crime that was noted to be very similar to the unsolved killing of Meyer Weisbard, a Jewish peddler, who was robbed and killed in 1901. Weisbard’s body had been found stuffed into a trunk, the throat had been cut, and the corpse dumped near the Lower East Side piers.

Andrea Romano, another member of the Hackensack counterfeiters, was later arrested in Niagara Falls whilst negotiating the sale of his saloon at 8 Prince Street, possibly to Lupo – who ran the establishment around this time.

Giuseppe Catania, a Brooklyn grocer, was found murdered on July 23rd, 1902. At around 8pm, four boys went swimming at the Bay Bridge, 73rd Street. One of the boys spotted a potato sack a few yards from the bank. Inside they discovered a badly bruised corpse with the throat cut from ear to ear.

The Secret Service believed that Catania had been a member of the Morello gang. They suspected the gang had disposed of him due to his habit of drinking and talking too much. Ignazio Lupo was one of the last men seen with Catania, they had travelled to Manhattan together to get some stock out of bond from the importers office. The police never gained enough evidence to warrant any arrests in the case. Salvatore Clemente, of the Frauto gang, later revealed that Giuseppe Morello and Dominico Pecoraro were behind the slaying.

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 American Bankers Association.

In 1901, Chief Wilkie, of the Secret Service, had noted the appearance counterfeit five dollar bills in imitation to currency issued by the National Iron Bank Morristown NJ. Well over a year later, on 31st December, 1902, Secret Service agents followed Giueseppe Guillambardo, Giuseppe De Primo and Isadoro Crocervera as they walked along Main Street.

The agents witnessed the men passing the counterfeit notes and placed them under arrest, however Guillambardo managed to break free. He was arrested two months later after being spotted at a 226 Elizabeth Street, a cafe belonging to Pietro Inzerillo of the Morello gang. On March 12th 1903, the trial began. The three men were found guilty, Guillambardo received five years at Sing Sing, Giuseppe De Primo was sentenced to four years and Isadoro Crocervera received three years. The notes had been manufactured in Italy and then shipped in empty olive oil containers to Manhattan. A man named Giuseppe Boscarino, who would feature in the gangs downfall in 1910, was suspected of being in charge of controlling the distribution of the Morristown notes.

Benedetto Madonnia, brother-in-law to the recently jailed De Primo, was murdered in April 1903. The sensationalist case became known as “The Barrel Murder” after Madonnia’s body was found cut and stuffed into an old barrel in East 11th Street. Most of the known members of the Morello gang were arrested in connection with the killing, but eventually cleared due to lack of evidence.

The Secret Service had been building a case against the Morello gang in relation to the counterfeit “Morristown Fives” for some time before the killing of Madonnia occurred. However, as Chief Wilkie of the Secret Service explained in his Annual Report of 1903, the governments case was dropped so that the gang could be tried for the more serious crime of the Barrel Murder:

Permission was granted to the New York agent of this service to give the police the benefit of our investigation, and with the material furnished and the co-operation of our agents, who pointed out and identified the various members of the gang, the local authorities were able to clear up the mystery and secure the indictment of most of the prisoners … at any rate, the traffic in Morristowns National bank notes has been temporarily interrupted.

Life after the Barrel Murder

After the trial finished in June 1903, the whole Morello family were searched and hounded on a regular basis. One night, Ciro Terranova was travelling home from work with his brother Vincent, nephew Charlie and Nick Sylvester when they were all arrested and kept overnight. On another occasion, Ciro and Nicholas Terranova were arrested whilst trying to locate a doctor for Giuseppe’s son, Colagero.

Following the ‘Barrel Murder’ trials Lupo expanded his import business and opened a new store at 210-214 Mott St. It was reported to be ‘one the most impressive stores in the neighborhood, many of the locals could only dream of shopping there’.

In 1904, Ignazio Lupo joined the Morello family when he married Salvatrice Terranova, a sister of the Terranova brothers. He was arrested on March 7th 1906, after being identified by Antonio Bozzuffi, an Italian boy who had been kidanpped and held on 59th Street. The kidnapped boy was the son of a wealthy Italian banker named John Bozzuffi, who had helped the Morello gang in the past by filing their incorporation certificate for the Ignatz Florio Co-Operative Association. Lupo was sent to the tombs in default of $1000 bail. However, Antonio Bozzuffi failed to identify Lupo once they were brought face to face in court. The father, John Bozzuffi, was later convicted of Grand Larceny after declaring his himself bankrupt, and then using his clients bank deposits to start a realty company.

On 1st February 1907, Francesca Delise, of 198 Elizabeth Street, returned to her second floor apartment and found her front door had been smashed in. Inside she found Giuseppe Masseria and Giuseppe Lima stealing her valuables. Masseria, 20, gave his address as 217 Forsyth Street and claimed to have lived there for three years. He was held on $2000 bail and eventually received a suspended sentence. Masseria would later emerge as a powerful and important leader in Mafia history.

On 20th February 1908, a body was discovered in Brooklyn. Salvatore Marchinne was found with his nose removed, tongue cut out and his body covered in stab wounds. In his pocket was found a note addressed to Antonio Ganci saying “Times are hard here now in Palermo. Give my regards to Fanaro. And remember one thing – caution !” – the note was from a man named Cantaldo in Sicily. The newspapers were filled once again with mentions of the Morello gang and the Barrel Murder.

Antonio Ganci, a counterfeiter, was arrested when he presented himself to Hamilton Avenue police station on Saturday 22nd February. He explained the presence of his letter in Marchinne’s pocket by saying he was unable to read, and often helped Marchinne to read his mail. The police also arrested Giuseppe Fanaro, Ganci’s brother in law and Morello gang associate, at 158 Ninth Street. Fanaro described himself as a longshoreman working in Brooklyn for a fruit importing company. No charges were filed. It was thought that Marchinne was killed by the Mafia in relation to a murder case in Sicily before Marchinne had come to America.

The Collapse of Lupo and Morello’s Businesses

In November 1908, Lupo claimed bankruptcy against his import business. On Monday 30th November 1908, the store was closed under order of the US Court. The receivers moved in, and the inventory for his store only reached $1,500. Lupo was missing, and his debts were up to $100,000. The attorneys for the receivers discovered that Lupo had made around $50,000 worth of purchases in the week leading up to his disappearance . Most of the goods had been delivered to warehouses, and paid for with loans that Lupo had taken out. The produce he purchased included meat ($5,000), oil ($5,000) and canned goods ($6,000).

On Friday 4th December 1908, $50,000 of Lupo’s grocery goods were found on a transatlantic pier in New York. Further produce, a hundred barrels of wine, and ninety eight bags of beans, was found in a warehouse on Washington Street.

The receivers discovered that Lupo had also recently remortgaged his real estate in Harlem, and assigned the leases to Antonio Rizzo. He had purchased the properties a year earlier from the Ignatz Florio Co-Operative, costing $71,000. The buildings were described as ‘two storey brick tenements, and stores’ located at 628 and 630 138th Street. The mortgage was foreclosed in December, with Joseph DiGiorgio listed as Lupo’s agent.

Antonino Passananti, a member of the Morello gang, who owned a wholesale wine business in Flushing Avenue, Brooklyn, ran his business into the ground in December 1908. The receivers called in the police after discovering Passananti had been committing wilful fraud. They also noted he had been paying large amounts of money to Lupo before the pair went into hiding.

On December 16th, Salvatore Manzella, an importer of wine and Italian produce at 196 Elizabeth St, filed for bankruptcy. William Blau, the receiver, presented Manzella to Judge Holt when he refused to show his accounts. Manzella testified that for over three years he had been a victim of extortion from Ignazio Lupo, and as a result his business was bankrupt. He also claimed that Lupo, one week before he disappeared, had visited his store and taken over $1000 in cash. In the search for Lupo, the police discovered he had a brother, John Lupo, who ran a grocery store in Hoboken.

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.

On November 12 1909, Ignazio Lupo walked into the office of his receivers with his counsel, Charles Barbier. He had been missing for a year after his store was served with bankruptcy. He claimed that he had been blackmailed for $10,000 which left him broke and had caused him to flee to Baltimore then Buffalo. Lupo was then arrested on November 17th in connection with the extortion of Salvatore Manzella. He was arraigned on November 22nd, however Manzella failed to appear and Lupo was discharged. He was immediately rearrested by a Deputy Marshall in relation to a counterfeiting charge from September 1902, but later released on $5,000 bail.

In 1910, after a sensational court case, Giuseppe Morello and Ignazio Lupo were both sent to Atlanta Penitentiary under the charge of counterfeiting.

Giuseppe Morello was 40 at the time of his arrest in 1910. The rule of Morello and Lupo came to an end, and the focus shifted to various other characters in East Harlem