Crazy Joe Gallo’s last moments in Little Italy

Joseph Gallo, nicknamed “crazy” by fellow mobsters, was a Red Hook–born gangster specializing in typical 1950s and 1960s mafia activities such as extortion and racketeering.

joegallopictureHe was also flamboyant, charming, and well-read, and in the early 1970s he became kind of a celebrity, hanging out with writers, actors, and other New York scenesters. 

But he made a fatal mistake on the night of his 43rd birthday, on April 7, 1972. After visiting the Copacabana nightclub, he stopped into Umberto’s Clam House on Mulberry Street in Little Italy. It was around 5 a.m. Supposedly a rival mobster saw him enter Umberto’s; within minutes, gunmen entered the restaurant and start firing. 

Gallo was hit five times, staggered out to the street, and died. He’s buried in Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery.

umbertos1973

There’s the crime scene at Umberto’s early the next morning. Apparently Gallo thought he was safe there because of an unwritten agreement among gangsters that Little Italy was off-limits to bloodshed. 

umbertosclamhouse

Umberto’s Clam House has since relocated a few blocks away, on the corner of Broome and Mulberry Streets in ever-shrinking Little Italy.

What happened when Gallo loyalists tried to avenge his murder? Here’s the story of a hit gone very, very wrong.

Bob Dylan’s 1976 song “Joey” tells Gallo’s story. Watch Part I and Part II here.

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54 Responses to “Crazy Joe Gallo’s last moments in Little Italy”

  1. Tim B. Says:

    Thanks for posting this. I recently finished reading “Joey” by Donald Goddard. An interesting guy for a gangster…I wonder why there hasn’t been a movie made about him – as far as I know anyway.

    • Jay Citti Says:

      Would you agree that the actor to play Joe Gallo, should be Matt Dillon? He is perfect in my opinion. I always thought that a movie about both Joe Colombo and Joe Gallo should be made. It can be call the Gallo Wars, or Two Joe’s, One Mob. What say you?

  2. bw Says:

    I’ve wondered whether Gallo was killed at the present day Umberto’s or the location down the street, where you can still see the restaurant’s name embedded in the cement on the corner. Do you know when the restaurant relocated? I suppose I could just go in and ask …

  3. wildnewyork Says:

    Gallo was killed at the original location, at Hester and Mulberry. I don’t know when Umberto’s moved but their website explains that it happened “approximately two years ago.” http://www.umbertosclamhouse.com/about.html

  4. joy Says:

    Thanks for this post. I did a walking tour down there, and I knew something big had happened there, and every time I bring people down there, I’m like “some gangster got gunned down there, but I dunno who.” Now I do. Cool.

    (Mind you, that’s still better than my friend’s tour in DC, when we were walking by a building, and she was like, “this is a famous hotel, something big happened here.” I looked down at the entryway carpet, and the monogram was “WH.” I said disbelievingly, “Watergate? You don’t know about Watergate?”

  5. bryan Says:

    it’s longer than two years; umberto’s has been on broome as long as i have, which is more than two years, and i seem to remember it here before that. i’m going to walk in and ask and let you know what i find out.

  6. Thomas Jefferson Says:

    man, Umberto’s! Great food!

    When I was a kid, my family and I would go there to eat all the time. Growing up Italian in NYC, it was a very well known Mafia eatery. After Gallo’s rubout, we stopped going there. My dad said it was no longer safe. As he would say, “things changed”. My dad certainly wasn’t in the Mafia, but many of his friends he grew up with in Brooklyn were. It was a few years before we went back to Little Italy for food.

    I’m sure a few of you remember the Mafia drug wars of the late 60′s and early 70′s.

  7. Patrick Says:

    There is a movie about Joe Gallo. It is called “Crazy Joe” starring Peter Boyle as Joe. The only problem is it is very rare and not available on dvd or vhs. A few years ago, I was very lucky to obtain a copy made from cable of this movie on ebay. It took me many years to find this because it is a movie that might be broadcasted maybe once every 20 years.

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0071369/

  8. Sean Says:

    The story was that Gallo was gunned down because he was alleged to be involved a bit earlier in the robbing of Fererra’s Cafe, a favorite hangout, on Grand Street. Such rude behavior had to be corrected.

    Bob Dylan wrote a song about him shortly after he died, as if he were Pretty Boy Floyd.

  9. joe Says:

    to patrick. you said you have a copy of that movie??? I have been looking for that movie for the better part of 15 years…. If you be interested in selling me a copy it would be greatly appreciated…. contact joeygss@hotmail.com and leave subject crazy joe gallo thanks

  10. liz Says:

    They moved to the current location in the late ’90s. I ate at the original location a few times in 1996-97 – legend had it that the big dings in the kitchen door were caused by bullets. I know I visited the new location in 99 or 2000, so they moved somewhere in between.

  11. Ruth Edebohls Says:

    Joey Gallo was used a the model for a character in Jimmy Breslin’s book “The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight”, made into a movie in 1971 Wikipedia says:
    The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight is a novel written by Jimmy Breslin. A film of the same name was released in 1971, directed by James Goldstone. The novel is a roman à clef of the life of Joe Gallo whose fictional counterpart is played by Jerry Orbach in the film. This Mafia comedy tells of the member of an Italian cycling team (played by a young Robert De Niro) who gets lost in New York. He soon finds himself in trouble with the local Mafia and so masquerades as a priest.
    This film is one of Robert De Niro’s earliest. Originally, Al Pacino signed up to play the part of Mario Trantino, but this was later given to De Niro when Pacino was given the part of Michael Corleone in The Godfather. De Niro subsequently dropped out of The Godfather, having been cast as Paulie Gatto – which opened the doors for his return to the Godfather series with The Godfather: Part II.

    This film started a friendship between Joey and Jerry Ohrbach (Joey hated the film) who introduced Joey into New York Society. Joey’s humble final resting place is a stop on my “Scandals, Scalawags and Murder Most Foul” tour of Green-Wood. Albert Anatastasia and Johnny Torrio are also buried there.

  12. Adrian Higgins Says:

    In the early 1970′s I worked with a man named Tommy Seabrook, who said that he was with Joey Gallo at Umberto’s the night Joey Gallo was killed. At some point he said Joey asked him to take his mother home, so Tommy left with Joe’s mother, and shortly after that Joey was killed. Tommy said the only reason he wasn’t taken out after that was the fact that it was Joey who asked him to do that. True or false??????

  13. Two For Tuesday: Free Midnight Movies, The Stone Killer & Crazy Joe « Crackle Blog Says:

    [...] New York City locations, a pretty awesome soundtrack, finishing with a recreation of one of the famous hits in mob history. Currently unavailable on VHS or DVD this is a true, lost, gangster [...]

  14. brian mccurry Says:

    Interesting stuff. It’s good to pad out the knowledge i’d gleaned from dylan and from the brief mention in Goodfellas – Henry Hill talks about Crazy Joe taking on a boss and starting a war. I’ve seen The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight but never realised the connection, the scene with the radio controlled dynamite is pretty funny.
    In his song ‘Joey’ Bob Dylan (or Jacques Levy) wrote “he threw the table over to protect his family…” I’d always tken the term ‘family’ at face value, but given that the killing took place at 5am i guess they meant “family”.

  15. Timo Says:

    This was my Grandmothers brother!fagudaboutit!!

  16. Nate Riley Says:

    I think the story behind the Dylan song is just great Jerry Orbach was one of the greatest stage and TV actors of our time. As for the song embellishing some parts of Joe’s life its nothing like all the false of misinformation that people believe about JFK’s assassination and it makes for a great song he is not writing a biography. The images are great. Thanks

  17. kyle Says:

    Thugs!! Get rid of them all!!

  18. bill stai Says:

    the movie can be viewed on crackle.com

  19. Lee Sepulvado Says:

    Joey Gallo was gunned down at Umberto’s Clam House because he disobeyed Carlo Gambino’s order not to recruit black people into his gang.

    After being instructed by Gambino himself an open contract was issued on
    Joey Gallo.

    He got his nickname for recruiting blacks he had met in prison.

    When he got of prison and asked for his old territory back and was told no
    he spat in the face of Joe Colombo who had taken over his territory. To
    get a foothold again the Gallo gang used a black man to shoot Colombo dead as he was speaking to a crowd at Columbus Circle in Manhattan.

    • Crazy Gene Romanowski Says:

      Where do you people get this crap, your story is completely false, Joey Gallo wasn’t recruiting blacks, he met Nicky Barnes in prison and struck up a friendship, and the Gallo’s as early as the 50′s had black guys running numbers for them in Harlem, which wasn’t unusual! Get your facts right!

  20. A mob hit gone wrong on East 79th Street « Ephemeral New York Says:

    [...] wrong on East 79th Street By wildnewyork On April 7, 1972, Colombo crime family racketeer Joseph “Crazy Joe” Gallo (below) was gunned down in Little Italy—celebrating his 43nd birthday at Umberto’s Clam [...]

  21. chas1133 Says:

    Gallo and his crew (brother Larry included) were also involved in the hit on Joe Columbo. That was always assumed due to a black shooter being used and it was well known that Joey associated with all races when it came to makin’ a buck. And let’s not forget the Anastasia hit as well, also Joey and Larry’s handy work.

  22. Gallo Says:

    years ago, you could see the bullet holes in the walls of Umberto’s when Joey got whacked. I guess it’s all gone know. if I remember the walls were knotty pine.

  23. Lee Sepulvado Says:

    OK Brooklyn historians: What happened to Monte’s Venetian Room Italian
    Restaurant in Brooklyn. It is closed but used to be one of my favorites when
    I was a Brooklynite.

    Let me know, please.

    • ryan Says:

      it was sold to a new owner and has re-opened. they renovated and the menu is different, but it’s still really good.

  24. AN EXISTENTIAL CRISIS? | London in New York Says:

    [...] you sure? Hold steady, ready, aim fire! Pump me full of shells and watch as I stand here like Crazy Joe Gallo dining at Umberto’s Clam House at 129 Mulberry Street in Little Italy, [...]

  25. cfoxv Says:

    Joey was my Great Uncle

  26. MOB Scene NYC Says:

    Slain Gangster Inspires Retrospective in Little Italy:

    GODFATHER GAME: LEGEND OF ‘CRAZY’ JOE GALLO

    Gangland’s notorious past is present at a new gallery retrospective on the life and times of enigmatic gang leader Joey Gallo, mere steps away from the spot where “Crazy Joe” fell.

    Among the items on display through early 2011 are vivid photographs from Gallo’s personal album as well as notebooks and letters confiscated from Gallo during a 10-year prison sentence.

    Four decades after the fact, Gallo’s slaying remains unsolved – but theories are plentiful. Some say revenge for a pastry shop burglary. Others point to older scores, belatedly settled with bullets. But even as Gallo lay bleeding on asphalt, his legend lived and breathed in the streets of New York City.

    MOB SCENE offers revolving exhibits of gangland history in contrast with Hollywood versions of the underworld. Hosted by Casino /Analyze This/Kill The Irishman actor Vinny Vella Sr., a Little Italy native.

    WHERE: 396 Broome Street – between Mulberry & Centre Market.

    With an unobstructed view of old Police Headquarters, MOB Scene sits beside the former NYPD evidence vault where the heroin seized during the ‘French Connection’ case mysteriously vanished in the early 1970s.

    In 1912, the gallery was a pool hall called “Little Rock”, a hangout of top underworld figures and where the NYPD’s “Killer Cop” Charles Becker brutally maimed two neighborhood youths — three years before he was executed in the Sing Sing electric chair.

    WHEN: Nov. 22, 2010 – Spring 2011

    ADMISSION: Free

    ###

    Contact:

    Vinny Vella Sr.: 1-855-MOB-SEEN

  27. M. Delam Says:

    Peter Boyle played Joe Gallo in a film called “Crazy Joe”. Boyle did a hell of a job and the film had an unbelievable cast…..Rip Torn, Eli Waliach(?), Luther Adler and a young Henry Winkler.

  28. C Thomas Says:

    Amazing! Umberto’s the old & new location has always been my favorite. The Best baked clams in the business!!!!! ( Umberto’s is closed now). I’ve heard that a mobster was murdered there but I didn’t know who or when…. Come to find out that it was Joey Gallo & on the morning of my Birthday….

  29. G Says:

    Great my uncle is on there he is Joey gallo
    It is interesting reading about him

  30. Christopher Fox Says:

    G Says:
    February 6, 2012 at 2:12 am | Reply
    Great my uncle is on there he is Joey gallo
    It is interesting reading about him

    Hey there looks like we are related caus ehe was my uncle as well:)

    • Salvatore Says:

      Christopher & G my name Salvatore and my dad was Frank Capone and my uncle was Al from Red Hook and I met your uncle in 1952 and it was at a party and my dad who was no angel himself said he reminded him of his bother Al when he was young.I’m a 81 year old retired university teacher!!! Look my uncle was Al Capone who was an underworld icon! but do not think either were cool because they weren’t …… they were murders and thugs and yes they were loved ones and blood relatives but they chose a life that didn’t contribute to society. I knew my uncle Al and I dropped a tear when he died,but the day he died he was terrified of death because he new what was waiting for him! the souls that he ordered to be taken and the terror of eternity.

  31. Jane-Ellen DeSomma Says:

    My aunt Rose Avellino was Joe’s first cousin. I grew up( born in 1958) hearing storys about “our connection to the mob”. Pretty cool stuff. I remember hearing about his demise in 72. I think they should make a real film about him also. Not like “The gang that couldn’t shoot straight”, a comedy loosely based on his crew. They did keep a lion in the basement.

  32. Lee Sepulvado Says:

    Anyone know what motivated Al Capone to move to Chicago from
    Brooklyn?

    A rumor in Brooklyn was that he was told he would never move up in
    the ranks because he was not Sicilian.

    An older Italian guy told me that is where the expression “Go west,
    young man” came from.

    • Bigga Tony Says:

      Al had a run in with Luciano that was resolved by Lucky letting Al go west to take over and run the Chicago rackets which were pretty much wide open territory for someone of Capone’s demeanor. If Al didn’t take the offer, it would have been the cement sneakers route for him. By the way, Capone died of syphillis in prison, he wasn’t “rubbed out” so to speak.

      • Crazy Gene Romanowski Says:

        That’s a funny story to bad it’s completely false? He went to Chi to work for Johnny Torrio because Frankie Yale asked Torrio to take Al in because Capone had a murder charge hanging over him in New York.

  33. Nora Ephron, press critic | The Wayward Press Critic Says:

    [...] was a problem with her secret panelist. Crazy Joey Gallo, the racketeer-cum-celebrity had been murdered at Umberto’s Clam House in Little Italy. He would have to [...]

  34. Ralph De Zago Says:

    In the Afterword of Charles Brandt’s “I heard You Paint Houses” (about the Jimmy Hoffa disappearance” Mr. Brandt notes an alleged wintess of the Gallo killing, stating that a lone gunman killed Gallo. Perhaps so, perhaps not. One thing I did notice, however, is that the witness pointed out that she had not been drinking when she went to Umberto’s Clam House because she was only 18 and couldn’t drink. I believe that at the time of the killing of Gallo, the drinking age in New York was actually 18 (it was subsequently raised.) The comment about her not drinking seems to be a gratuitous one by the witness. If she WAS drinking, perhaps her menory was not as clear as Mr. Brandt would like.

  35. Sam Says:

    It was April 7 on Mullberry Street where they sell the best imported ham,
    In Umberto’s sat Gallo in his birthday best, no longer on the lam,
    A man burst in with mid-bore drawn, BAM, BAM BAM, BAM BAM,
    April 7, Seventy-Two, Joe Gallo had had his last clam.

  36. Three Of Green-Wood's Most Notorious Gangsters | South Slope News Says:

    [...] was celebrating his 43rd birthday at Umberto’s Clam House on Aptil 7, 1972, when he was gunned down by a team of rivals.  His marker at Green-Wood is somewhat difficult to find, but is located in Section 12 of Lot [...]

  37. Stukaman Says:

    History is about to be re-written: it was but ONE gunman who kissed Crazy Joey, and his name is Frank Sheeran. You can read about it in the book, “I Heard You Paint Houses,” written by Charles Brandt. Sheeran also confesses to Brandt that ’twas he who sent Jimmy Hoffa “to Australia” in 1975. Very convincing book. Brandt interviews an eyewitness who saw Sheeran walk past her and her party that night at Umberto’s, saying he was the only one shooting.

  38. Sara Kate Says:

    There are a few…um…statements in the replies about the reason Crazy Joey Gallo was gunned down. If you’d like to know ultimately who was responsible for it and some more of his history, check out Biography channel’s show Mobsters, season 4, episode 28, orig air date 8/21/12 about Carmine The Snake Persico. (I wrote it all down, but my comment didn’t post…grrr.) http://www.biography.com/tv/mobsters/episodes/carmine-the-snake-persico

  39. Sara Kate Says:

    It’s good

  40. Arthur Nash Says:

    For many never-before-published photographs of Joey Gallo, his family and his gang check out my photobook “New York City Gangland” You can preview it at http://www.NYCGangland.com

  41. chas1133 Says:

    As a kid I worked for a livery company (limousines, hearses and flower cars) that got hired for every gangsters funeral you could name who died in NY in the 70′s…we also did their weddings and families weddings…great tippers and great food!! We also carried the caskets in and out of church (when family didn’t)…pretty intense at times but being there was cool at the time.

  42. Clams in Spicy Brodetto | Cucina Magia Says:

    […] http://ephemeralnewyork.wordpress.com/2009/02/07/the-gruesome-end-of-crazy-joe-gallo/ […]

  43. Lee Sepulvado Says:

    Crazy Gene Romanowski: “Crazy” is a good name for you. You
    should stop trying to correct people who post. You don’t know it all.

    Maybe you are using “Crazy” to try to be like Crazy Joe Gallo. Just
    remember where Crazy Joe is.

    See the “o” on the end of my last name. Respect it.

  44. Arthur Nash Says:

    Now available on iTunes & the App Store, the ‘New York City Gangland Tour’, a sequel to my rare photobook!

    It features over 100 years of history, 300+ locations throughout the Five Boroughs, and over 4000 photographs!

    Download it today! The only gangland tour you’ll ever need!

    https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/new-york-city-gangland-tour/id734824322?mt=8

  45. A RUB-OUT THE MOB GOT WRONG | mafianewsblog Says:

    […] April 7, 1972, Joseph “Crazy Joe” Gallo was gunned down in Little Italy—celebrating his 43rd birthday at Umberto’s Clam […]

  46. Lee Sepulvado Says:

    Romanowski: You are the one trying to correct people. You put a
    lid on it. You are out of order. If you would settle down and pay attention you could learn something, maybe. But you will not learn
    while running off at the mouth.

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