Organized Crime

Gangster Era Reborn: Unearthed Crime Scenes from New York’s Prohibition Underworld

Nearly 100 years later, there's still new information to discover.

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.

Maranzano used to say that if we hoped to win the war we should get at Morello before the old fox stopped following his daily routine, as Maranzano had already stopped doing. Once Morello went undercover, Maranzano would say, the old man could exist forever on a diet of hard bread, cheese and onions. We would never find him.

JOE BONANNO, “A MAN OF HONOR”

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.

Giuseppe “The Clutch Hand” Morello met his end at the hands of Maranzano gunmen. His famous deformed right hand is visible. His death would also signal the end of Joe Masseria’s chances of winning the Castellammarese War.

Photos and bodies of scenes at 352 East 116th St, 13030a – Courtesy of The New York Municipal Archives
Alternate view of Giuseppe Morello’s body.

Photos and bodies of scenes at 352 East 116th St, 13030b – Courtesy of The New York Municipal Archives
The body of Joseph Perranio, who jumped over 20 feet to his death once the shooting started. It’s unknown if the force of the fall sent him careening through the back door or if he made it back to his feet before expiring.

Photos and bodies of scenes at 352 East 116th St, 13030c – Courtesy of The New York Municipal Archives
Morello’s office where the shooting began. Sebastian “Buster from Chicago” Domingo and another assassin forced their way in through the right side door.

Photos and bodies of scenes at 352 East 116th St, 13030d – Courtesy of The New York Municipal Archives
A closeup of the deceased Joseph Perranio.

Photos and bodies of scenes at 352 East 116th St, 13030e – Courtesy of The New York Municipal Archives

SOURCES

“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

27 comments

  1. Are there anymore gangsters pictures from the archives? They were incredible. The Vincent Coll pictures were insane. I’d love to see some of Maseria and Marrazano. That would be incredible. Please let everyone know if there’s anymore being released. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Thanks for checking it out, Jonathan! So Masseria and Maranzano photos remain big targets for me. My take is they have to be somewhere, just a matter of if the Archives have it or the NYPD themselves. Believe it or not, even all these decades later there’s still records the NYPD haven’t transferred over to the Archives. There’s definitely more gangster photos. The tricky thing with the searches is that a lot of times the names are completely misspelled due the officers who arrived on scene (you’ll notice this on some of the pictures as that’s how they’re listed in the Archives records). So, it’s really a grind to go through the records but so worth it when you find gems like these. Rest assured, once the pandemic slows down and the Archives are open to the public, I’ll be right back in there searching.

      1. Couldn’t email you directly but try this – At the bottom of the first page on the site, you should should see a list of numbers going horizontally across the page in little boxes. Each of these represents a different page with the pictures. If you’re on a mobile device, it’ll be right before title of the next article.

    1. Appreciate the support James and I absolutely loved your Youtube video! You put a big smile on my face and I’ll proudly carry that new favorite person title haha Once the pandemic slows down and the Archives reopen, I plan to get right back in there digging for more gems.

  2. Amazing pictures. Nice research Ismael. I enjoyed it including the stories that go with it. I hope you find more (Greetings from the Netherlands)

  3. Wow, those pics are amazingly clear and smooth for their age!

    Thats some great research and digging, Ismael… Coincidentally Im currently reading ‘First Family’ which centres on The Morello family so I skipped that section to avoid too many spoilers! haha

    1. That’s awesome brother, I really enjoyed that book and it gave me confidence to do my own research. Yes, definitely avoid that Morello section until you finish the book haha Let me know what you think, I’d love a TV series on the Morellos.

      1. Yeah its a great book man… i just got to the part (demise) of the Camorra and the Navy Street Gang etc amazing how the Camorra could have give the Mafia a real run for their money and essentially changed organised crime in the US…

        Ahh, I never thought about a Morellos TV series, that would be insaaaane! That definitely needs the full HBO/Showtime, big budget, period costumes and set treatment!

  4. I’m also very interested in the Amberg and Shapiro brothers. Have you come across any new pics or info about them?

    1. Glad to hear it on your Amberg and Shapiro interest! I did find leads on some potential pictures from the Amberg 1926 Tombs prison breakout and potentially some of Meyer Shapiro’s murder, but alas I’ll have to wait until the Archives open back up to follow-up.

  5. Ismael,

    These are truly incredible. The amount of work, and research that went into this is deserves recognition. I truly appreciate it, as the 1920s have always been fascinating to me so it was no problem for me to read every word and study every photo.

    I was wondering if you would have access to more? Arnold Rothstein, and Legs Diamond to name a few, would be interesting crime scenes. Both went out in gangland style hits.

    Anyways,

    Thank you

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Nucky! There is still plenty to go through regarding more potential findings. Before the pandemic shut everything down, I do remember seeing notes that indicate crime photos may exist of the hotel room where Rothstein was shot. Since he was rushed to the hospital and lingered a few days, anything that’s found would likely just be of the room and maybe the murder weapon that was tossed onto the street. Once we’re allowed back on site, I’ll be sure to look into what Rothstein photos have survived . The NYC records I used didn’t include Legs Diamond’s murder since it happened in Albany. If they still exist, they’d likely be at the New York State Archives which I haven’t had the pleasure of researching yet (in due time). I really appreciate your encouraging words and thanks again for reading.

  6. Hi, these are great! Do you happen to have or come across photos or information on Saverio “Sam” Pollaccia? He is of Brooklyn, by way of Sicily, and was connected with Masseria, Anastasia, Yale, Luciano, etc. Any information will be greatly appreciated.
    Regards,
    Nick

    1. Thanks for reading, Nick! In my research, the only thing I’ve seen on Pollaccia was a document referencing pictures still existing of his fingerprints from a 1932 arrest. It appears in all aspects he still remains a shadowy figure, but I’ll keep an eye out on my next Archives visit.

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