They Shot Crazy Joe On His Birthday

joe galloThe gunmen came in through the back door of Umberto’s Clam House at 4:30 in the morning. Mafia legend Crazy Joe Gallo had his back to them when they  started shooting.

Umberto’s was supposed to be neutral ground, a freshly opened restaurant in New York’s Little Italy district owned by Matty “the Horse” Ianniello. It was one of the few places Crazy Joe felt safe enough to sit with his back to a door.

Joe had been at the Copacaba club all night celebrating his 43rd birthday. Comic Don Rickles was on stage, insulting everyone. When the show was over Crazy Joe, his wife, her daughter, Joe’s bodyguard Pete the Greek, and Pete’s girl headed for Umberto’s for seafood.

When they walked in, a guy sitting at the bar gave them a long look, got up, and walked two blocks to see some friends. Crazy Joe didn’t even notice.

Meet The New Boss

Crazy Joe Gallo had a price on his head for as long as he could remember. That was the price of being  a career criminal.

Gallo grew up in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn. The straight life didn’t appeal so Crazy Joe became an enforcer for the Colombo crime family run by Joseph Profaci. Joe was a tough guy without much in the way of remorse; the authorities thought he might be schizophrenic.

Life was sweet in the 1950s. Joe ran dice games, nightclubs, and sweatshops. He had a nice apartment on President Street and kept a pet lion in the basement. When Albert Anastasia got shot to death in a barber shop, many people thought Crazy Joe was the trigger man.

By the early 1960s Joe and his two brothers were getting sick of paying tribute to Profaci. They joined a rebellious faction that refused to pay up. The First Colombo War saw kidnappings, murders, and a few events that would end up in The Godfather: a Gallo enforcer’s clothes stuffed with fish and dumped in front of the gang’s favourite diner, and an attempt to garrote Larry ‘Kid Blast’ Gallo in a nightclub that failed when a passing policeman wandered in check out the noise.

Crazy Joe ended up in prison for extorting a shopkeeper and did ten years in prison. While inside he got into beatnik literature, jazz, and made friends with black inmates. Unusual behaviour for a Mafia type. He was a sharp, talkative guy.

“Joe was articulate and had excellent verbal skills,” said a fellow prisoner, “being able to describe gouging a man’s guts out with the same eloquent ease that he used when discussing classical literature.”

Joe got out in 1971 and restarted the war. Profaci was dead but his successor Joseph Colombo was just as keen to see Crazy Joe dead. He never got the chance.

In June of that year an African-American gunman posing as a photographer shot Colombo three times in the back of the head at an Italian-American Civil Rights League rally in New York. The shooter was killed immediately but everyone assumed he was one of Joe’s prison contacts.

Dead Famous

On 7 April 1972 the Colombos shot back. One of their men saw Crazy Joe and friends walk into Umberto’s Clam House. A hit team was quickly assembled.

When they came in through the back door and started blasting, they were shooting at a celebrity. Since his release from prison Joe had started hanging round with New York’s smart set. He had become friends with actor Jerry Orbach after the future Law & Order star played a Gallo-like character in the movie The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight.

Orbach introduced him to New York’s bohemian creative types. They were charmed by the beatnik gangster. Crazy Joe moved to a Greenwich Village apartment and married a hip young girl called Sina.

Then the bullets started flying. Gallo was shot five times. He overturned the table and staggered towards the door. Pete the Greek got hit once as he dived for cover and started blasting back. The hitmen ran out the back and Crazy Joe collapsed in the street out front of the Clam House. He died in the hospital.

For more warlike weirdness, you can buy my  books in paperback or ebook:

Soldiers of a Different God: How the Counter-Jihad Created Mayhem, Murder, and the Trump Presidency [or]


Lost Lions of Judah: Haile Selassie’s Mongrel Foreign Legion [or]


Katanga 1960-63: Mercenaries, Spies and the African Nation that Waged War on the World  [or]


Franco’s International Brigades: Adventurers, Fascists, and Christian Crusaders in the Spanish Civil War [or]

One thought on “They Shot Crazy Joe On His Birthday

  1. Pingback: The Lion, the Midget, the Warlord | Christopher Othen

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