Childhood & Early Life
Joseph Colombo was born Joseph Anthony Colombo Sr., on June 16, 1923, in Brooklyn, New York, U.S., to Catherine and Anthony Colombo. He was their only child. His father was a gangster who worked for the Profaci crime family and was one of the earliest members of the gang.
When he was 15 years old, his father was found dead in his car with his mistress. Joseph was influenced by the life his father led. However, life was not too easy for Italian–Americans in New York.
Joseph initially studied at the ‘New Utrecht High School’ in Brooklyn. However, he was not interested in academics. He dropped out of school and began working as a ‘U.S. Coast Guard’ while he was still a teenager.
In 1945, he had to quit his job, as he was diagnosed with neurosis. He was deemed unfit to continue with the job. He moved back to New York and took up other jobs. He worked as a longshoreman for a while. He also worked as a meat salesman for many years. He finally became a real-estate salesman, but did not stick to the job for long.
He followed in his father’s footsteps and got an easy entry into the Profaci crime family. He soon earned the status of an enforcer. He later became a “capo” (a person in the gang who leads a small crew of gang members and holds a solid influence within the gang).
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The Colombo Crime Family
By the early 1960s, Joseph had become one of the most influential men in the Profaci family. The Profaci crime family was one of the “Five Families” of the American mafia in New York City.
As an enforcer, Joseph was involved mainly in extortions and other physical work for his gang. He was one of the most trustworthy men of Joseph Profaci, the head of the family.
However, the internal conflicts in the gang were also a regular cause for concern. Joe Gallo was a “capo” in the Profaci gang. He once kidnapped Joseph and several other leading members of the Profaci family. Gallo eased up and released them when the Profaci gang agreed to his terms, but the Profaci family later backtracked on their promises. This led to the outbreak of the First Colombo War.
The leader of the gang, Joe Profaci, passed away from liver cancer in June 1962, after which Joseph Magliocco took over as the new leader of the gang. As the new gang leader, Magliocco went all out after Gallo and attempted many hits on their former ally. However, none of the attempts were successful.
Magliocco also wished for a monopoly, beating the rest of the “Five Families,” and attempted to kill many of the crime bosses. Magliocco assigned the task of killing Gallo and the other rivals to his most trustworthy hit-man, Joseph Colombo.
However, Joseph had his own plans. He went to all the gangsters Magliocco had asked him to kill and revealed his plot to them. As a result, Magliocco was forced to retire and Joseph was handed over the ruins of the Profaci crime family. Since then, the Profaci crime family was known as the Colombo crime family.
Joseph was 41 years old back then and thus became the youngest gang leader in the country. He was sympathetic toward his fellow Italian–Americans. He was not happy with how Italian immigrants were treated in America.
In 1970, Joseph laid the foundation of the ‘Italian–American Civil Rights League.’ The organization was established to make the federal government listen to the plight of Italian–Americans. They were apparently paid less than their American counterparts and were also treated badly in the workplaces.
This led to thousands of Italian–Americans supporting Joseph. In June 1970, they organized a huge rally, which was attended by 50,000 people and took place at the ‘Columbus Circle’ in New York City.
Many ‘Congress’ members also attended the rally, and it also received massive media coverage. The Italian–Americans loved the attention, but the mafia commission did not. For them, too much attention was generally not good for business.
In 1971, the movement became bigger, with Frank Sinatra extending his support and Joseph appearing on TV, giving interviews and speeches.
After the success of the first rally, Joseph announced another rally, which was to take place in June 1972. The mafia commission was not happy. Around the time when the rally was being planned, Joe Gallo was released from prison. Joseph offered Joe a peace treaty. However, Joe had been meeting other gangsters while in prison and had made big plans.
On June 8, 1971, during the rally, Joseph was shot multiple times on his way to the stage, after being introduced. The perpetrator was an African–American gangster named Jerome Johnson, who had arrived disguised as a journalist.
Although Joseph was shot at point-blank range, he survived and was hospitalized. He lost his consciousness and remained paralyzed for the rest of his life.
Joe Gallo was one of the suspects in the shootout. However, it was later assumed that Carlo Gambino had committed the crime. However, his influence over the ‘New York Police Department’ (NYPD) saved him, and it was concluded that Jerome had acted alone.
Family, Personal Life & Death
Joseph Colombo married Lucille Faiello in 1944 and had five children with her.
He passed away after a cardiac arrest on May 22, 1978. He had been in an unresponsive state since the shootout attempt on him in 1971. He was 54 years old at the time of his death.