When we hear the term mafia boss, who immediately comes to mind? John Gotti? Charles “Lucky” Luciano? Al Capone?
What about Giuseppe Morello? No?
Well, as it turns out, Giuseppe Morello was the first capo di tutti capi, or “boss of bosses”, in New York City. Born in Corleone, Sicily in May of 1867, Giuseppe Morello's father had died when he was five years old and a year later, his mother married a man named Bernardo Terranova. At the time, Bernardo Terranova was a member of the Corelonesi Mafia, in Corleone. It is believed that Terranova is the one who brought Giuseppe Morello into the underworld of the Sicilian Mafia.
At the age of 25, Giuseppe Morello fled from Sicily to the United States because he was a suspect in a murder in Corleone and for his counterfeiting ring, that was also discovered by authorities. He arrived in New York City and soon took up a life of crime there. The family stayed in New York City for about a year and Giuseppe Morello became the leader of the 107th Street Gang. However, shortly thereafter, he moved to Louisiana with his family and then to Texas where they picked cotton for a living, for about four years. However, after bouts with malaria, the family moved back to New York City and Giuseppe took back his role as the leader of the 107th Street Gang.
Giuseppe Morello soon came on the radar of the United States Secret Service when five dollar bills, all counterfeit, turned up in retail businesses in Brooklyn. He and another associate were arrested by the Secret Service but the counterfeit bills could not be traced back to Morello and was set free. The Secret Service then watched him closely and waited for Morello to trip himself up. However, they were not able to arrest him again until almost ten years later.
In 1902, Giuseppe Morello became the owner of a saloon located at 8 Prince Street in Manhattan and the business became the official meeting place of his gang and other ne'er-do-wells. By 1905, Giuseppe Morello was considered the “boss of bosses” by rival gang members. Then in 1909, the Secret Service finally gathered enough evidence to arrest Morello. While they had him in custody, the Secret Service searched his home and found letters and other evidence that wound up convicting Morello.
He served 10 years of a fifteen year prison sentence and while he was incarcerated, Giuseppe Morello lost the title of “capi di tutti capo”. When he was released from prison, Morello tried to rise in power again but by this time another man, named Joe “the Boss” Masseria, a former capo in the Morello crime family, had gained a lot of power and was on track to be the new boss of the family. Morello had tried to have Masseria killed on a couple of different occasions, but the attempts failed. Soon, a truce meeting was held between Joe Masseria and Giuseppe Morello, set up by Morello loyalist, Rocco Valenti. At the meeting, neither Masseria or Morello showed up, but their associates did and when Valenti tried to escape, he was shot dead by Charles “Lucky” Luciano.
Morello had eventually aligned himself with Masseria as an adviser. Morello and Masseria controlled New York City but leaders of a gang based in Brooklyn led by Salvatore Maranzano and Joseph Bonnanno and they feuded. This became known as the Castellammarese War which lasted from 1929-1932. As the war was underway, Giuseppe Morello and an associate named Joseph Perriano, were making collections in Harlem, when they were both gunned down in a hit in August of 1930.