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|New York|  Peter Morello

Birth: May 2, 1867 - Corleone, Sicily

Death: August 15, 1930 - New York











Giuseppe "The Clutching Hand" Morello was the founding and leading member of the Morello Gang, which is recognized as the first Mafia family in New York. He and his associates, from which many were relatives, were heavily involved in counterfeiting and extortion. His crew expanded in years to come and eventually became known as the Genovese Family.

Early Mafia association.
Giuseppe Morello was born in 1867 to Calogero and Angela Piazza Morello in Corleone, Sicily. His father died after the birth of his sister Maria. His mother then remarried with a man named Bernardo Terranova, a leading figure within the Corleone mafia. The family was then expanded with 3 Terranova sons and 1 daughter. In 1889 Morello and an accomplice were responsible for the murder of police official Giovanni Vella. The murder was witnessed by 2 women, one payed with her life while the other was forced into silence. Morello immigrated to the United States somewhere in 1892, it is possible he was fleeing to escape prosecution for the 1889 murders. About six months later his family, including his half-brothers Nicolas, Vincenzo and Ciro Terranova, arrived in New York in the spring of 1892. He teamed up with blackhander Ignazio Saietta, a fellow native of Corleone whom he had met before. Other men who became associates of Morello were Vito Cascio Ferro (who was said to have teached the Morello - Saietta alliance in their crime activities), Giuseppe Fontana (An Sicilian fugitive), Antonino Passananti, Giuseppe Palermo and Vito Laduca. All men were also born in villages around Corleone. In 1900 Morello's first wife, Maria Marvalesi, died at the age of 27. Morello bought himself a saloon which became a regular meeting place for criminals and thieves. His nickname 'The Clutching Hand' came from his dis-formed hand which only contained one finger.

The Barrel murder
On April 14th 1903, a well dressed man was found stuffed inside a barrel. The barrel stood next to a pile of wood on the sidewalk on East 11th Street. His head lay between his knees and a bag was put over his head. He had about 18 stabbing wounds and his neck was cut open wide. The woman who discovered his body screamed which alarmed a couple of cops in the neighborhood. The press dubbed the murder scene 'The mystery of the barrel'. Inside the barrel the police found a couple of unions and black Italian cigars. The night before his murder, the victim Benedetto Mandonia was spotted inside the saloon of Morello, which was under surveillance of the police for a while. The police then arrested Morello at the Bowery and discovered he was not only armed but also carried the same black cigars that were found inside the barrel. In his saloon police also discovered the same union leftovers and the cigars on the floor. During his questioning Morello refused to answer, he didn't even wanted to explain where he lost his fingers. Joseph Petrosino was one of the officers who investigated the crime. Petrosino was informed that the victims brother-in-law was doing time at Sing Sing prison and decided to have a chat with him. When the prisoner, Giuseppe Di Primo learned that his brother-in-law was murdered he was enraged. Di Primo himself had also been a Morello associate and was arrested due to counterfeiting charges the year before. He started telling everything and explained his role in the Morello-Saietta counterfeiting business.

The night of his murder Madonia had a watch with him, on the back of the watch was an image of a train, this was how Madonia's widow could identify him. The watch however was stolen when they found his body. When the police arrested Tommaso Petto they found out he was now the new owner of that watch. Petto immediately became suspect nr. 1. On May the first the men had to show up before court. When Madonia's son was called to testify in court a man jumped to his feet and put his finger on his mouth. Suddenly the son didn't know anything anymore, even Di Primo and Madonia's widow had a sudden rush of amnesia. As a result nobody was charged with murder. But justice eventually came when Di Primo allegedly murdered Tommaso Petto in 1905 and another suspect in the murder, Vito Laduca, was killed in 1908.


Boss of Bosses
Through the years the Morello gang grew and was superior in the Italian underworld. Morello himself was seen as a boss of bosses (maybe not in that exact term). In 1909 however Morello was arrested again and was jailed together with his allie Ignazio Saietta for counterfeiting charges. Morello was sentenced to 25 years in prison and Saietta 30 years (it was stated that Morello fainted when he heard of his sentence). Morello's half-brothers Ciro, Vincent and Nicholas were now in charge of the organization. While being in prison Morello had the privilege that many of the other arrested associates were jailed inside the same prison walls, such as Giuseppe Palermo, Ignazio Saietta and Vito Laduca. In 1912 Morello heard the devastating news that his son Calogero was murdered in East Harlem. After his sons death Morello's health began to get worse and he frequently needed medical assistance. Morello's problems didn't end with his personal life as far away from the prison walls his half-brothers were also facing troubles.

Somewhere in 1914 the Terranova's started to get in a feud with the Brooklyn camorra, which mainly consisted out of immigrants from Naples. This evolved in a gangwar between the two sides, dubbed the Mafia-Camorra War. The violence led to the murder of Nicholas Terranova in 1916. Not much later the the war was ended after most of the Camorra leadership was arrested and convicted for murder. In 1920 Morello was finally released from Atlanta Penitentiary. During the period Morello was jailed, another Sicilian mafioso from Brooklyn had marked himself as the new Boss of Bosses, Salvatore D'Aquila. Like Morello D'Aquila also had established a criminal network in and out New York and was backed by powerful Cleveland boss Joseph Lonardo and fellow Brooklyn ganglord Frankie Yale. Soon D'Aquila made plans to whipe out the Morello-Terranova leadership in an attempt to be superiour. Giuseppe Masseria, who had become a strong enforcer of the Morello gang under Ciro Terranova, was also on the hit list. Another man targeted by D'Aquila was Umberto Valenti, who escaped the death sentence by aligning himself with D'Aquila. Amongst the resulting victims was 36 year old Vincent Terranova in 1922. Valenti himself was however murdered that same year in order of Masseria, who was briefly arrested for the crime. It didn't take long for Masseria to rise inside the ranks of the Morello gang afterwards. Masseria overpowered D'Aquila in the following years which led to the cooperation with Al Mineo, D'Aquila's second in command. Mineo's betrayal eventually led to the downfall and killing of D'Aquila in 1928, the same year Frankie Yale was murdered. During all this time Morello stayed on the background but was still seen as the official leader. He and his new wife also lived with Ciro for a while they had a new home. They eventually moved to their new house in 1927.

After the murders of both D'Aquila and Yale, the Morello's found themselves at odds with another Brooklyn organization, the Schiro's, or Castellammarese. According to Joseph Bonanno, who was their enemy during the resulting Castellammarese War, Morello and Masseria had a solid relationship. Bonanno also said that Morello was very respected in the society, even by his enemies. Morello was however murdered together with 27y old Giuseppe Periano on August 15, 1930 while collecting cash receipts in his East Harlem office. The murder was ordered by Salvatore Maranzano. The assassin was Buster from Chicago, claimed by government informant and former Genovese soldier Joe Valachi. One year later Masseria was also murdered in orders of Maranzano, he was betrayed by his lieutenant Charles Luciano. Luciano then took over the leftovers of the Morello gang after the peace returned. The gang was then reorganized and in the years to come it would expand to one of the largest families in America.


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