Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Dying of the Light: The Joseph Valachi Story

First Blood

In the Cosa Nostra, it was mandatory that when called upon, a soldier carries out any job handed down from his boss. Killing for the mob was no different in their eyes than collecting a debt or enforcing a family policy on gambling or loan sharking. A soldier killed as part of his job; he was never paid to do it.

Joe did not know the victim, and even if he had, it would have made no difference. Tony Bender handed down the hit, identifying the victim as Michael Reggione, known as Little Apples. He hung out at a coffee shop in Harlem. Some years previously his brothers, Louis, Mike and Jimmy, had been involved in some dispute with Genovese and Luciano. They had died as a result. The fear was that, ten years later at the ripe old age of twenty-two, he was now ready to avenge their deaths. The details did not concern Joe. As far as he was concerned it was simply a job.

He recruited two friends whom he had originally brought into Maranzanos palace guard, Peter (Petey Muggins) Mione and John (Johnny D) DeBellis, to help him arrange the execution. Joe then began to hang out at the coffee shop, and he struck up an acquaintance with Little Apples. He also scouted around and found the ideal place for the killing. It was an old, unoccupied tenement building at 340 East 110th Street .

On the evening of November 25th, 1932, he conned his victim into accompanying him on the pretext that they were going to a card game. As they walked into the entrance of the building, Joe turned away. His friends, waiting in the shadowy lobby, shot Reggione three times in the head, leaving him dead in the hallway. After the killing, Valachi said he went straight home to his wife. After all, he said, I was just married a couple of months and I didnt want Mildred to think I was already starting to fool around.

Following the resignation of Mayor Jimmy Walker on corruption charges, the new reform candidate, Fiorello LaGuardia vowed to rid New York of corruption and the slot machines. Joes business soon dried up and in desperation, he and Santucci turned to the numbers racket, starting up a policy game in East Harlem. Things went well and by 1936, Joe was drawing a tax-free income of $1250 a week. Although he had, in common with all policy banks, been paying off the local police precinct as protection, on January 13th., he was arrested. Yet when his case came up for trial, someone had put the fix in and he received only a suspended sentence.

Throughout the rest of the 1930s, Joe operated his numbers business with modest success, also branching out into loan sharking, which was a highly lucrative form of money lending that generated enormous profits for the mob. Eventually, through this area of his operations, he became involved in legitimate business. When one of his debtors could not meet his payment schedule, Joe accepted a half share in his business, an upper Manhattan restaurant called the Paradise. He also found himself a partner in a garment manufacturing company called Prospect Dress. He and Mildred had a child, a boy they called Donald, and like most mobsters, Joe cultivated a mistress, a twenty-two-year-old woman called Laura. He set her up in her own apartment and kept her dressed in the latest fashions, courtesy of his interest in the clothing business.

Towards the end of 1940, Joe bought his first race horse and began a love affair with horses that would last him the rest of his life. It was perhaps the only interest he ever had that he did for the pure pleasure of it. By this time, things had changed dramatically in the hierarchy of his crime family, and in the underworld in general. There had been major convulsions, especially surrounding a man who one day would try flying and one who would die frying.



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