Joseph “Crazy Joe” Gallo was born in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, New York on April 7, 1929 and is one of three sons to Prohibition bootlegger Umberto Gallo. His brother’s Larry and Albert “Kid Blast” Gallo were never deterred from entering a life of crime from their parents. Subsequently each of the brother’s became involved in organized crime.
By 1949 Gallo had earned the nickname Joe the Blond for having a chest full of blond hair that he promoted by wearing unbuttoned shirts. In 1950 Gallo was arrested and sent to Kings County Hospital Center where he was diagnosed with schizophrenia. By that time, Gallo was already working with Joe Profaci, boss of the Profaci crime family and future Colombo crime family as an enforcer and hitman.
As an associate of the Profaci family, Gallo was also put in charge of several high stake card games, extorsion rackets, and numbers games. Having a feared enforcer controlling the rackets lessened the odds someone would attempt a takeover or robbery. During this time, the rackets flourished and Gallo , a smart businessman compared to others, put himself in position to own several Manhattan nightclubs and sweat shops and increase his wealth.
In 1957 its alleged Joe Profaci asked Gallo and his crew to murder the boss of the modern day Gambino crime family Albert Anastasia. Carlo Gambino, Anastasia’s underboss wanted to take over as boss of the family after Anastasia’s murderous group became a liability for the family. However, as the leader of Murder Inc., a mafia hit crew attributed to over 200 murders; Anastasia would not be easy to kill.
On October 25, 1957, Anastasia entered the Park Sheraton Hotel barber shop. While he was seated awaiting a shave, two gunmen entered the shop and began firing at Anastasia. Reports say Anastasia lunged at the hitmen’s
shadows before falling to the floor dead. The gunmen left the building and were never caught. To this day, there are reports the gunmen were from several other families, but no conclusive evidence has ever surfaced.
In the early 1960’s Gallo was making a run against his old mentor Joe Profaci. Profaci was increasing tributes from the family and Gallo disagreed so he devised a plan to kidnap the entire leadership and use their lives to barter against the increase with the commission. During the kidnap attempt, Profaci escaped, but four of his capo’s and his brother-in-law and underboss Joe Magliocco were captured. According to records, Gallo wanted to kill one of the hostages and demand money before the negotiations began but his brother Larry convinced him otherwise. Within weeks, a deal was met and Profaci reduced the amount of tribute money for the Gallo crew and all the men were released unharmed.
Although peace was negotiated, Profaci wasn’t happy with Gallo forcing his hand and began planning his revenge. In May 1961 Profaci teamed up with Carmine Persico to eradicate the entire Gallo crew. Within days gunmen had murdered Gallo’s top enforcer Joseph “Joe Kelly” Gioelli. His clothes were left at the front door of a restaurant frequented by Gallo and the rest of his crew; a clear message they had a fight on their hands.
In August of the same year, Larry Gallo was next on the list to be killed. He was lured to a Brooklyn supper club where Profaci hitmen including Persico lay in wait. Once he entered the building he was attacked and nearly strangled to death. If it wasn’t for a passing police officer who stopped the attack, Larry would have been killed. This attack officially started a war between followers of the Profaci/Persico team and the Gallo crew who retreated to a safe house on President’s Street.
The remainder of the year was tough on the Gallo crew. They were holed up in their apartment and rarely left without heavy guard. As the year continued, money became a focus for the men as they were not able to collect from their usual rackets. Gallo resorted to extorting money from nearby establishments. Gallo was arrested after trying to extort a local cafe owner. He was subsequently tried and convicted of extortion, and on December 21, 1961 he was sentenced to 7 – 14 years in prison for the crime.
Gallo was released from prison in 1971 after serving 10 years. At his parole hearing an officer at the prison testified for Gallo and described a scene to the court. During a riot the guard was attacked by several inmates. He was certain they would kill him, but before they could, Gallo fought off the attackers and saved the officer’s life. His clean history while serving time and the guard’s story aided in his release.
Upon leaving the prison his then wife remarked how he had become frail and pale while in prison, but not discouraged. He was determined as ever to gain the top spot on the Profaci family now called the Colombo family after the death of Joe Profaci in 1962, and the commission’s appointment of Joseph Colombo Sr. as the new boss.
After Gallo’s release from prison Colombo and Joseph Yacovelli met with him and delivered a gift of $1000. Gallo responded to Colombo that he was no part of the peace treaty the commission had established while he was in prison. He asked for $100,000 to keep the peace. When the commission heard of Gallo’s answer, they immediately issued an order to kill him.
On June 28, 1971 at the second meeting of the Italian-American Civil Rights League, a foundation created by Joe Colombo, a gunman emerged from the crowd and shot Colombo in the head. Colombo bodyguards returned fire killing the assassin later identified as Jerome Johnson an African American. Colombo survived the shooting but maintained a vegetative state until his death years later.
The official police investigation concluded Johnson acted alone and had no ties to organized crime. Despite the police investigation, the mafia commission received word that while in prison Gallo had recruited several African American men to his crew. Johnson was thought to be part one of them. After discussions, the mafia commission increased their intensity to have Gallo killed.
On April 7, 1972 Joe Gallo celebrated his 43rd birthday with his family. The night began at Manhattan restaurant until the early hours of the morning and moved to Umberto’s Clam House in Little Italy. In attendance were Gallo’s sister, wife, daughter, bodyguard, and the bodyguard’s female companion. He was spotted by Colombo associate Joseph Luparelli who promptly left the restaurant for a Colombo hangout a few blocks away where he recruited Colombo associates Philip Gambino, Carmine DiBiase, and two other men to kill Gallo.
At 4:30 a.m. four gunmen entered Umberto’s Clam House and open fired at Gallo. According to witnesses Gallo pulled a revolver of his own, flipped over a table and returned fire. Over 20 rounds were fired at Gallo. He was hit in the buttocks, elbow, and back. After the gunmen fled Gallo staggered through the front door and collapsed on the street. Some say he was trying to divert the gunmen from his family and friends. Others say he was trying to flee. When police arrived, the badly wounded Gallo was placed in a squad car and rushed to the nearest hospital were he died.