THE OLD FOX GETS CLIPPED: THE MURDER OF GIUSEPPE “THE CLUTCH HAND” MORELLO
Much like his successor Salvatore D’Aquila, Guiseppe Morello, also know as Peter, was a cunning and secretive man. He led the gang that later became known as the Genovese crime family, the oldest of the today’s Five Families. The Morello crime family was the first organized Italian syndicate on record in the United States, making Morello the first boss of bosses on American soil.
And yet, The Clutch Hand, named so because of his deformed right hand, was smart enough to not let the pursuit of power be the fatal flaw it had been with D’Aquila. After being sentenced to 25 years in prison in 1910, he was paroled in the early 1920s to a completely different Mafia scene. Former underling D’Aquila was the main power, and Morello was forced into exile until he wisely negotiated peace with D’Aquila. Once Joe Masseria dispatched of D’Aquila, Morello aligned himself with the new power as his adviser. It was a perfect match as Morello had the diplomacy which Masseria lacked, and was also an adept wartime consigliere due to his old battles with Brooklyn’s Camorra faction.
When the Castellammarese War commenced in 1930 pitting Masseria/Morello faction against upstart Salvatore Maranzano, the latter knew Morello was the higher priority target. The “old fox” had already engineered the murders of Maranzano allies in Detroit, indicating the extent of Morelllo’s tentacles around the country. And as Masseria’s “brain trust,” taking out Morello would effectively end Masseria’s chances of winning the war.
Morello underestimated the swiftness of the Maranzano forces. He went to his East Harlem office as usual accompanied by two others, Joseph Parriano and Gaspari Pollaro on August 15, 1930. None of the three were armed or had bodyguards on the second floor office.
Two gunmen, one identified as the deadly sharpshooter Sebastiano “Buster from Chicago” Domingo, forced their way into the office and fired at least a dozen shots. Parriano, already hit multiple times, jumped on the window and expired by a rear doorway. Pollaro was mortally wounded but lived long enough in the hospital to describe the shooting to police.
The intended target, Morello, was fatally wounded and made it to another office before choking on his own blood and falling dead. A more fanciful tale emerged years later due to the testimony of turncoat Joe Valachi, who stated Domingo claimed that Morello attempted to dodge the bullets. For sport, Domingo allegedly boasted he accepted the challenge by delivering the fatal shots at range rather than the easier close-up shots. The likelier truth is the unexpected additional targets lead to haphazard shooting.
With Morello’s demise, Masseria’s days were now numbered and the Castellammarrese War would end less than a year later with Masseria’s slaying.
“Two Killed, One Wounded in Gang War” Brooklyn Times Union, August 15, 1930
The First Family, Mike Dash, Random House, 2009
A Man of Honor: The Autobiography of Joseph Bonanno, Joe Bonanno Sr., 1983