- Antonio Morello
Antonio Morello was the patriarch of the famous mafia family from
Sicilyand the eldest of the three Morello brothers which included Nicolo Morello and Giuseppe Morelloand two half-brothers, Vincenzo "Vincent" Terranova and Ciro "The Artichoke King" Terranova. Tony Morello and his family are known as some of the earliest Black Hand extortionists and American mafia members to establish themselves in New York Cityand develop many underworld connections and associations with other leading mafiosi across America after their arrival in the United Statesin 1892. The group was originally known as the 107th Street Mob, a strong mafia group that quickly established dominance within the predominantly Italian neighborhood of East Harlem, New Yorkand eventually the city's underworld.
Antonio Morello was allegedly a senior mafioso who arrived in America from the legendary Sicilian town of
Corleone, a small town located approximately 30 miles outside of Palermowhich was a known breeding ground for the Sicilian mafia. The mafiosi of Corleone were not influential members of the Sicilian underworld at the time of the Morello family's immigration to America in the late 1800s. In fact in the earliest years of their existence, Corleoni mafiosi were outsiders and looked upon as crude peasants by the residents of Palermo, the Sicilian mafia's powerbase. The mafiosi of Corleone were known for their ferocity and willingness to fight for honor. Many Corleonesi mafiosi--including the Morellos--were known to have participated in "vendetta" or honor killings. This was one of the contributing factors that gave the men of the Morello family their reputations for violence and viciousness among other Sicilians even before they came to America. Just as Antonio Morello and his brothers would soon be recognized as some of the most powerful and influential New York mafia members, one day their fellow Corleonesi Clanmembers back home would become famous and powerful as the small band of country mafiosi would take control of the island's criminal organization known as Cosa Nostra] almost 100 years later.
Arrival in America
Antonio Morello and his family came to America in the late 19th century and set up their base of operations in
East Harlem, New Yorkand quickly established themselves as a dominant force within New York's Italian underworld known as the "mafia". The Morello family was known as a "mafia family" to all the Italian inhabitants of East Harlem and the various other predominantly Italian neighborhoods within New York City. The reputations of the Morello men, including that of Antonio, allegedly the patriarch of the "Morello Gang" were legendary within the Italian communities, their penchant for violence and murder was well known and their ability to murder even when it wasn't necessary was that protected the Morellos and their criminal organization from community members speaking out or to law enforcement, this is something known to all Italians immigrants and mafia members as "Omertà". Antonio allegedly led a group of extortionists, robbers, thieves, pimps, drug dealers and counterfeiters that preyed mainly on their fellow Italians. The crime group that Antonio Morello led became known as the "Black Hand" or "Mano Nera", but in actuality the gang of criminals Antonio and his brothers led were actually Sicilian mafia members who had based themselves in America and now operated within the country's underworld. The Black Hand was in fact a type of extortion practice that had been used Italian criminals for centuries where a threatening letter was sent to well to do and helpless Italian immigrants demanding payment of money or goods or as the letter stated they would be beaten or killed. The extortion method used by Antonio Morello and his fellow mafiosi in America had never before been seen by local law enforcement and the newspapers and many non-Italian law enforcement officials confused the Black Hand extortion methods with being a criminal organization when in fact it was only a means employed by the mafia and its members such as the Morellos.
Rise to power
Antonio Morello and his family were ambitious and ruthless and on
December 4, 1892Morello murdered a New York mafioso named Francesco Meli. Meli was an influential member of Brooklyn's Neapolitan Camorra, a rival group within New York's Italian underworld and one of the Morello family's strongest enemies. The killing of Meli may have represented a struggle for control of the Brooklyndockyards and the illegal rackets around that area and with the murder of Meli it seems that Sicilian mafiosi Antonio Morello was able to usurp Neapolitan mafia control of the Brooklyndockyards and eventually expanded his group's operations into parts of the Upper Manhattanand Bronxwaterfronts, while leaving the Lower Manhattan area to the Irish and Jewish gangs that still dominated that area. In later years there have been reports that the murder of Meli by the elder Morello was also personal, rumors are that Meli's underlings had robbed Morello's wife prior to his murder. This was possibly an act of disrespect directed at Antonio and his family during the conflict concerning the Brooklyn docks between the Sicilian Morello and Neapolitan Meli, so to Morello the killing of Meli was also a matter of honor. Both the Dec. 5th issue of the "Hartford Courant" and the Jan. 19th and 23rd issues of the "Brooklyn Daily Eagle" described "Francisco Mele" as a one-armed organ grinder and Morello as a "padrone." Neither paper mentions Meli or Morello's involvement in any other criminal activities, adding another puzzling layer to the events surrounding Meli's murder.
Upon establishing themselves within New York's Italian underworld the Morello family and their mafia group made certain they associated themselves with mafia members who originally came from their area of Sicily in order to generate support and create alliances that would allow the Morellos and their allies to overcome any rival group. As leader of his mafia group and an influential New York mafia member Antonio Morello would have likely traveled to other areas of the country to meet with recognized leaders of the Sicilian-American mafia. One of the most well known Corleone mafia groups operating outside of New York was in
New Orleans, Louisiana, the earliest Sicilian-American mafia stronghold, one that was established even before New York sometime between the mid to late 1800s. One of Antonio Morello's strongest allies in New York was Iganzio Saietta, another well known Sicilian-American mafia member from Morello's hometown of Corleone, Sicily. Siaetta was known within the Italian communities of New York as "Lupo", which meant "wolf" in Italian, his ruthless and vicious nature was legendary among the Italians and the mafia of New York.
Continuing to support the Saietta Gang, their allies based in the
Little Italy, Manhattanarea of the city, Antonio Morello and his family would use their alliance with Saietta to become one of the most dominant mafia groups within New York City. In the late 1890s Lupo Saietta married into the Morello family when he wed Antonio's half sister, Salvatrese Terranova, the sister of Ciro Terranova, their union produced a son Rocco who was born in 1900. Some organized crime and American mafia historians believe that the marriage of Saietta into the Morello-Terranova clan was the true beginnings of the Morello crime familyas the marriage not only created family ties, but cemented the underworld alliance of the two groups, which then gave them an even stronger advantage over most of their rivals as the bonds of secrecy and loyalty within the mafia family were now based on family and blood ties, something very important to traditional mafia families. Another reason Antonio Morello and his mafia family were influential and successful was their well known willingness to use violence and murder as a tool for control over the rackets of New York's Italian underworld and the psyche of the mostly poor immigrants within the predominantly Italian neighborhoods they ruled over. Antonio Morello helped create the dark reputation and aura that surrounded the Morello family early on. Morello and his associates were known as remorseless underworld killers who would leave a long trail of bodies and later be suspected of the famous " barrel murders", supposedly murder victims of the Black Hand extortionists, which would be found regularly throughout the decade left for dead and sometimes dismembered within wine or olive barrels. The Morello and Saietta crime groups and the various leaders over the years would also play an important role within the history of the American mafia and organized crime as the Morello and Saietta alliance was soon known as the Morello crime familyand would eventually become one of America's most powerful mafia crime families, the Genovese crime family.
Morello crime familycontinued to be one of the most powerful and influential mafia crime families in New York throughout the end of the 19th century as Antonio looked to lead the crime family into the next century, but this would not be. Antonio Morello was gunned down in the summer of 1898 at he age of 44, apparently the victim of a mafia rivalry. With the death of Antonio Morello in 1898, leadership of the Morello crime familywas passed onto his brother Giuseppe Morello, although Iganzio Saiettawas considered the overall leader of the Manhattan group and with that carried a level of seniority and was recognized as the co-leader of the organization that Antonio Morello helped create. Unfortunately for the Morello family Giuseppe was arrested roughly year after assuming leadership of the crime family for counterfeiting and sentenced to three years imprisonment, but just as Giuseppe had been there to succeed Antonio, Lupo Saietta and his brothers-in-law would continue to lead the group Antonio helped build and once led, while Giuseppe was incarcerated for a short period of time. Antonio Morello and his family would leave behind a large criminal legacy that is regarded today as one of the first true mafia crime families in the United States and a forerunner of the powerful and influential 5 families of New York. The Morello crime familywas a ruthless American mafia organization that ruled within New York's underworld during the American mafia's earlier decades. Along the way the group's ambition for power and wealth was recognized by their fellow New York mafiosi and law enforcement as the barrel murders and several other mafia murders that occurred within the New York City between the late 1800s and early 1900s where attributed to the Morello-Saietta groups and believed to have taken place in the famous Murder Stablesof East Harlemowned by Lupo Saietta.
History and confusion
As a sidenote which should be mentioned, immigration records show, the majority of Morello family members emigrated to America from
Corleone, Sicilyin 1892, this included the brothers Giuseppe and Nicholas, and half brothers Vincent and Ciro, but there is no record of Antonio Morello landing in New York with the other Morello-Terranova family members. Being that Antonio was the eldest of the Morello brothers it could be the Sicilian family had followed a traditional method of immigration that was practiced by many Italian and European families in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Many families allowed and elder member of the family, either the father or the eldest brother to emigrate prior to the rest of the family. In most cases it would be months or a year, but for some it could even be years earlier in order to meet with relatives and friends who had already emigrated and to make arrangements in regards to where the family would be living once they arrived. In some cases the more wealthier immigrants sent a senior relative or the head of the family ahead to establish a business or to purchase a house, but in most cases poor immigrants followed the procedure to give them some form of security once they landed in America.
Over the years research by various American mafia historians such as Thomas Hunt, the creator of the popular "American Mafia" website shows that the Antonio Morello who was shot and killed in the summer of 1898 and has been labeled as the patriarch of the Morello family and the first leader of the
Morello crime familymay indeed not be a Morello-Terranova clan brother, but only a relativeand member of the crime family. This is just one example of information that has come to lite in recent years, or more accurately come to public attention and to those who follow American mafia history. This is not abnormal because a great deal of the information concerning early American organized crime and American mafia history is incorrect and inaccurate. The reason being that many early works such as books and newspaper articles that were written or created soon after America became fascinated with the Italian-American mafia during the Senate Hearings of the 1950s and early 1960s are not very accurate and over the years the accurate and credible information has been passed on with the incorrect and inaccurate information that has just continued to be regurgitated over the decades. Over roughly the past 20 years there have been organized crime and American mafia historians and authors who have taken the time and effort to do the proper and advanced research o takes to create an accurate and credible book or on line website regarding the American mafia, and the correct and up dated information is now reaching the public.
What is certain about Antonio Morello was he was a New York mafiosi of influence and was in fact related to the famous mafia family, and a known member of the
Morello crime family, but over the years many organized crime historians and authors have debated over whether or not Antonio Morello was the eldest of the Morello brothers and the patriarch of the family or just a relative, possibly a cousin. American mafia historians and authors such as David Leon Chandler believe that Antonio Morello was the patriarch of the Morello family and the first leader of the Morello crime family, the forerunner to the powerful Genovese crime family. Chandler's 1975 book, "Brothers in Blood: The Rise of the Criminal Brotherhoods" devotes a chapter to Antonio Morello, his family and their rise within the New York mafia and just how important they are to American mafia history.
* Chandler, David Leon. "Brothers in Blood: The Rise of the Criminal Brotherhoods". New York. E.P. Dutton and Co. Inc., 1975.
* [http://juniusbooks.com/eth_pub.php Cordasco, Francesco and Pitkin, Thomas Monroe. "The Black Hand: A Chapter in Ethnic Crime" New Jersey. Littlefield, Adams and Co., 1977.]
* "A Padrone on Trial for Murder." "Brooklyn Daily Eagle". 19 Jan. 1893, 12.
* "A Padrone's Fight for Life." "Brooklyn Daily Eagle". 23 Jan. 1893, 10.
* Reppetto. Thomas. "The American Mafia: A History of Its Rise to Power". New York. Henry Holt and Co., 2004.
* "Shot the Organ Grinder." "Hartford Courant". 5 Dec. 1892, 1.
* Sifakis, Carl. "The Mafia Encyclopedia: Second Edition". New York. Checkmark Books, 1999.
* Time-Life Books, The Editors of. "Mafia: True Crime" Virginia. Time Warner, 1993.
* [http://www.onewal.com/index.html] - "The American Mafia Website". Thomas Hunt, New Milford, Ct. Copyright 2005-07.
Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.
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